Soccer

Retired striker Koevermans still bleeds Toronto FC

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The Canadian Press
4/8/2014 4:25:05 PM
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TORONTO -- Danny Koevermans no longer wears the jersey but he still bleeds Toronto FC red.

A goal machine for the MLS team when healthy, the former striker is back in his native Netherlands these days. As in Toronto, his 35-year-old body let him down when he tried one last time to take the field with FC Utrecht earlier this year.

Now coaching with the Dutch club, Koevermans, his wife and two daughters are back in the family home in Helmond they left behind to come in Toronto. And the former Dutch international is happy and at peace.

"I am good. I am excellent," he said over the phone. "I miss Toronto but for the rest, I'm just doing fine."

He has been closely following Toronto FC's new-look -- and winning -- lineup.

He watched the first two games live online and has followed every outing since.

"First thing I do in the morning is check out what they've done," he said. "I'm happy for you all. It's crazy. Three away games, only one home game, nine points already, maybe this will be the season for the playoffs. I hope so."

Sadly Koevermans' presence in Toronto these days is limited to a photo of him applauding the fans. It is portrayed prominently on a wall in the foyer of the team's north Toronto training centre.

"It was an amazing time," Koevermans said. "I miss Toronto every single day."

A serious knee injury -- he tore his anterior cruciate ligament -- and a string of ensuing calf problems in the same left leg limited his MLS career.

While he signed a 2 1/2-year deal, essentially his TFC playing time lasted one calendar year, from July 2011 to July 2012, with 17 goals in 21 starts and 26 appearances.

The six-foot-three Koevermans, whose contract expired at the end of 2013, returned to the Netherlands with his family on Dec. 14. He wanted to try one last comeback back home and signed with Utrecht, with both sides knowing that he was one injury away from retiring.

"I was hoping to give them some goals, but it never came to that point," said Koevermans, who saw just 29 minutes action in three appearances.

His calf gave out less than a month after he arrived. He returned to training one more time only to pull his calf muscle two weeks later.

"I said enough is enough, it's over. I'm going to quit," he said.

The eventual decision to retire as a player was not difficult.

"I saw it coming," he said.

Utrecht asked him to stay with the team until the end of the season, which he agreed to.

"It's a good group of guys and I feel comfortable over there," he said. "I feel appreciated."

Then the team asked him to work with the strikers, which he has agreed to do through the end of the season. The Utrecht strike force includes Colombian Juan Agudelo, Zambian Jacob Mulenga and Belgian Steve De Ridder.

"I like it," Koevermans said. "I never had the ambition to be a head coach but something like this would be perfect. I'm hoping they will keep me next year."

Utrecht is only an hour's drive from his home in Helmond so the job is attractive from all fronts.

Toronto FC introduced Koevermans and former German international midfielder Torsten Frings as designated players on June 29, 2011, with both making their MLS debut July 20.

Frings may have had the name but Koevermans had the moves. He collected eight goals in 10 games in 2011, scoring from all angles and with every part of his body.

While some strikers celebrate highlight-reel finishes, the no-nonsense Koevermans didn't care how his goals went in as long as the goalie had to pick the ball out of the net.

He was a straight-shooter off the pitch as well, making headlines during the disastrous start to the 2102 season after Toronto slipped to 0-9-0.

"We're setting a record for the worst team in the world, man, and it's painful," Koevermans said at the time. "What can I say more? It's just the worst ever."

The Dutchman took matters in his own hands when he came off the bench the next game. He beat Chris Konopka (now a Toronto FC player) to score in the 88th minute and end the record slump with a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union.

Koevermans was troubled by minor injuries at the start of the 2012 campaign but, when he regained his health, he went on a roll and had nine of the team's 19 goals when he went down.

According to Opta, which tracks statistics, Toronto scored every 65.9 minutes during the 2012 season with the big Dutchman on the field. Over the same stretch of the season when he hadn't played, they scored every 130.8 minutes.

Koevermans says his career ended July 14, 2012, when he wrecked his knee on the artificial turf at New England's Gillette Stadium. After surgery and 11 months of painstaking rehab, he returned in July 2013 but only saw 78 minutes of action spread over four games as his calf kept on giving out.

As the 2013 season wore down, Koevermans was a forgotten man at Toronto FC. Pro soccer can be a cruel game -- out of sight, out of mind when it comes to injured players.

He was distraught as his career in Toronto fizzled. His family liked the city and he had hoped to play one more season if healthy. It was not to be.

But today he says he is OK with his fate.

"I know I had a good career. It's unlucky that basically it ended on this July 14 (2012). ... The moment I tore my ACL, I never really got back to full fitness, full game fitness. Which is a shame. But I tried, I tried really hard."

He never got a medical explanation why his surgically repaired knee resulted in so many calf issues. He puts it down to age and a lot of soccer miles under his belt.

"Maybe at the end, when I look back at it, my body was kind of fit but not fit any more for the highest level. I couldn't train any more really really hard like you have to do."

Danny Koevermans (Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images)
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